Early Predictions for This Year's Most Surprising NFL Veteran Roster Cuts
The 2014 NFL draft brought us an influx of young talent. It also created a glut.
Combined with free agency, the draft has put a number of veterans on notice. Some might be pushed out of starting gigs; others might be pushed entirely off their rosters.
The NFL is getting younger at the expense of many veterans. They have the new collective bargaining agreement and rookie wage scale to thank for that. But that's a discussion for another time.
At any rate, which veterans might be the most surprising among the rolls of the released come August? Click through to find out.
Isaiah Pead, RB, St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams already cut ties with running back Daryl Richardson, less than a year after he started in the team's season opener. Could Isaiah Pead be next?
The former second-round pick has been a disappointment for the Rams, unable to gain traction on a roster full of late-round picks at his position. He was suspended for one game to start last season—the biggest reason Richardson got that start—and saw fifth-round rookie Zac Stacy take over as the starter.
Pead wound up playing just 100 snaps in a second consecutive disappointing season.
The third-year back now contends with third-round rookie Tre Mason in addition to Stacy, a reality that could have Pead on the outside looking in come September.
Brandon Flowers, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
According to Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei before the draft, the Kansas City Chiefs were reportedly willing to trade cornerback Brandon Flowers. Pompei said, "The Chiefs are believed to be willing to deal Brandon Flowers in an attempt to acquire extra draft selections."
Could that mean he is on his way out?
Flowers took a tumble last season, ranked among the worst cornerbacks in the league at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) just a year after being ranked among the best, his Pro Bowl selection notwithstanding.
The veteran certainly should have plenty left in the tank, and cutting him would only save $3.5 million in cap space. The Chiefs drafted Phillip Gaines in the third round, however, and have just $4 million or so in cap space.
Daniel Kilgore, C, San Francisco 49ers
Daniel Kilgore was all set to be the long-term starter in San Francisco. The 49ers signed him to a four-year deal, and Jonathan Goodwin was completely out of the picture.
Then the draft happened.
San Francisco took Marcus Martin out of USC in the third round, a steal of a pick for a guy who was rumored to be a first-round target just before the draft, according to ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio. Beyond rumors, Martin is the center of the future with the ability to start right away in San Francisco.
If Martin has a great preseason, Kilgore might become expendable. Cutting him wouldn't create any dead money, and the 49ers have a boatload of young talent they probably want to keep on the 53-man roster.
Peyton Hillis, RB, New York Giants
Not that this will be terribly surprising, but Peyton Hillis should be on his way out in New York.
The veteran running back really only latched on to the Giants after the position became a M.A.S.H. unit last season. David Wilson and Andre Brown were knocked out for significant amounts of time, and Brandon Jacobs and Da'Rel Scott were ineffective.
Hillis, 28, has no spring in his step—he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last season, continuing a steady decline.
The Giants signed Rashad Jennings and drafted Andre Williams out of Boston College, and they're holding out some hope that David Wilson will return this season. That would leave Hillis as the odd-man out in that backfield.
Even if Wilson cannot make a comeback, there are going to be a ton of available running backs who would be better options than Hillis once teams start making wholesale cuts this summer.
Dawan Landry, S, New York Jets
The Jets signed Dawan Landry to shore up the safety position, but they may not need his services any longer.
New York selected Calvin Pryor out of Louisville in the first round of the draft, and he should slot in as the starter right away. That leaves the Jets with a 31-year-old, perennially mediocre backup being paid $1.5 million this season.
Granted, that's not a huge amount of money, but Landry isn't just going to have a roster spot guaranteed. The Jets have Antonio Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett at the position, and they could be inclined to give cornerbacks Ras-I Dowling or Kyle Wilson—whom they considered last season—a shot at safety.
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Atlanta Falcons
This could easily be Steven Jackson.
The Atlanta Falcons drafted Devonta Freeman in the fourth round, signaling they may be ready to move on at running back. Move on from whom is the question, however.
Of the top two running backs in Atlanta, Freeman more closely resembles Rodgers. Both are on the small side and better suited for a third-down role, at least initially.
Rodgers is on the last year of his rookie deal, and he has never really delivered on his potential. With Jackson likely hanging on to his starting gig for one last year, Freeman makes sense as the No. 2.
That leaves Rodgers hanging out to dry.
Terence Newman, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
Cornerback Terence Newman is approaching the end of the road in Cincinnati and, perhaps, the NFL. The question is whether that road stops short or goes for one more season.
The Bengals needed to get younger and better at cornerback this offseason. They did just that by drafting Darqueze Dennard out of Michigan State in the first round.
Granted, Dennard is only one player and the Bengals could have used a few this offseason, but the rookie should push to start in 2014. Even if he doesn't, Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick—a first-round draft pick from just a couple of years ago—are all younger options as well.
Newman is on the final year of his deal, and he is making just $1.9 million. A subpar preseason could spell the end for Newman in Cincinnati.
Dan Connolly, OL, New England Patriots
Offensive guard Dan Connolly had been a quality part of the New England Patriots offensive line over the years, but his play slipped significantly in 2013. One offseason later, and Connolly finds himself on the roster bubble.
The Patriots took Bryan Stork and Jon Halapio in the draft to bolster the interior of the offensive line. While they may be fourth- and sixth-round picks, respectively, both should have a shot to unseat the veteran.
Connolly will turn 32 this season, and he was among the worst guards in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). It might not be so surprising to see him cut after all.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
It was a bit perplexing to see the Cincinnati Bengals utilize BenJarvus Green-Ellis so much last season, given how bad he looked when juxtaposed with sensational rookie Giovani Bernard.
The Law Firm scored seven touchdowns, sure, but that was largely a function of goal-line opportunity. He averaged a paltry 3.4 yards per carry, and Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated him the fourth-worst running back in the league.
The Bengals must have noticed, though, which is why they spent a second-round pick on a running back for the second year in a row. Cincinnati drafted talented-but-troubled Jeremy Hill out of LSU, a big back whose stock fell due to off-field concerns.
Hill is a younger, better version of Green-Ellis, meaning the latter is likely out of a job. Why keep around an ineffective third-string running back making $2.3 million?
Roberto Garza, C, Chicago Bears
The 2014 season was supposed to be Roberto Garza's swan song in Chicago. Garza may not even make it that far.
The 35-year-old center was all but replaced when the Bears signed Brian de la Puente, presumably to start. The former New Orleans Saint has been a quality center since coming into the league, though never nearly as good as Garza was in his prime.
Despite his advanced NFL age, Garza was still a quality center last season—he was the 12th-best center in the league, according to PFF (subscription required)—and the Bears may value his veteran presence. He is also on the books for a paltry $1.5 million on one season.
But would the Bears want to spend a valuable roster spot on a backup center with no future with the club over, say, a promising rookie playing a different position?
Trent Cole, LB, Philadelphia Eagles
This one is a bit of a long shot, but cutting Trent Cole might be in the cards for the Philadelphia Eagles.
The veteran pass-rusher is on the wrong side of 30, and he is due to make $10 million in 2015 and $34.8 million altogether over the next four seasons. That is a big commitment for a guy who will be 32 in October and whose production has been subpar in recent years.
Philadelphia drafted outside linebacker Marcus Smith out of Louisville in the first round, perhaps signaling it is ready to move on at the position.
Of course, Cole could still be a valuable mentor for Smith, and cutting him would create $4.8 million in dead money. More importantly, despite totaling just 11 sacks over the past two seasons combined, Cole was the seventh-best 3-4 outside linebacker in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Still, there would be a net savings of $1.8 million on this year's cap, and the Eagles wouldn't have to deal with creating dead space next season.
The likeliest scenario is that Cole will restructure his contract and take a pay cut. But the Eagles could simply cut bait if Cole is unwilling to redo his deal.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Justin Blackmon is on his way out of Jacksonville and, perhaps, the NFL.
All right, so this won't be much of a surprise—his release is a fait accompli, especially after the Jaguars took receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson with second-round picks in the draft. Even so, cutting a guy the Jaguars moved up into the top five of the draft to select just two years ago was something nobody expected at the time.
Blackmon is still indefinitely suspended from the league for violating its substance-abuse policy again, and it seems the Jaguars are ready to move on from the troubled receiver. They gave away his locker to undrafted free-agent quarterback Stephen Morris, as The Associated Press' Mark Long tweeted.
Hopefully, Blackmon can turn his life around, but it looks like he will have to turn his career around with another team.
All salary and cap information courtesy of Spotrac.com.